I registered to the Amazon AWS 101 Cloud Computing Business Seminar event happening in Wellington and Auckland. I am a tech guy, and I use technology. A lot. That's how we keep Geekzone running - we use the lot, including databases, performance optimisation, content delivery networks, balanced DNS, analytics, etc. Because that's how we keep the site running, and that's how we have it on the top.
So naturally I thought learning about Amazon AWS would be awesome and I could at some point use this.
But when I registered I put my title as "blogger" instead of "director". Because that's what I do for a living. The "director" at my company is just the signing title.
Then I got a strange phone call from Amazon asking what is my title, followed by this email:
Thank you very much for your interest in our Business Seminar in Wellington on Oct 13. This event is a customer-focus event and therefore not appropriate for Media and Bloggers. However, we would be very happy to answer any of your question and therefore set up a meeting with our PR Manager. Please let me know if you'd like to that.
So, there you go.
After I replied to this note with a clarification they sent me an email saying I am welcome to the event.
I think not.
Is TelstraClear having some routing problems? Why is it routing traffic from New Zealand to the United States via Hong Kong?
Isn't enough that we are far away from content, why use the longest route to get something then?
Update: Yes, someone mentioned it's the Internet, if things are not well, alternative routes and all. Yes, I know that. Still, if we are so far away from content that 200ms influences the results, it would be good if a high quality network could make sure things were taking the optimal path and only use the fallback as an alternative for when things go wrong, not as the default for days/weeks. In this case, someone somewhere should be alerted.
I have a Cradlepoint PHS300 and noticed something interesting when using mobile data: if I plug my 3G Sierra Wireless USB modem to the PHS300 and connect my laptop to the router via WiFi I get faster speedtest results than if I plug the 3G USB modem directly to my laptop.
This is obviously for the same network, same location (Auckland CBD), around the same time (as in plug to laptop, test, plug to PHS300, text, plug back to laptop, test)...
Also the connection seems to be more reliable.
Interesting. I know both the laptop USB adapter and the 3G USB modem are USB 2.0, but why the speed difference?
And no, it's not a paid advertising for Cradlepoint products, but I would be interested to know if anyone have similar experiences with other 3G/WiFi routers.
I just read that Telstra is adding a 500GB broadband plan in Australia for AU$119.95. Users on HFC (cable modem service) can get 100 Mbps speeds for an extra AU$10.00
Telstra's presence in New Zealand, TelstraClear, offers a 25 Mbps HFC plan for around NZ$200 a month with a 120GB allowance, which is about five times more expensive, with 1/4 of the speed. Yes, that bad.
Earlier this year TelstraClear ran a HFC 100 Mbps trial, which I was invited to participate. HFC is a brilliant service (on any speed), as anyone who ever used the cable modem service can confirm, when compared to DSL alternatives. But the company have since gone quiet, and apparently have no plans of announcing new services supporting neither those speeds or allowances.
People keep asking on Geekzone when the 100 Mbps plan is coming and the company keeps saying we should wait, something is coming up. But it's been quite some time now and the company is not known for moving fast. I understand their HFC infrastructure is currently ready for DOCSIS3 and 100 Mbps speeds, but somewhere someone is not signing the "Go Ahead" memo.
Disclaimer: as a participant of the 100 Mbps trial I was offered, at the end of the test period, to return to my original plan or move to the top plan while keeping the 100Mbps profile. It was an easy decision, since I was already paying for the top plan, so in our household we do have a 100Mbps HFC connection.
Today I got an invite to a press briefing here in Wellington later this week, with James Reinders (Director, Chief Software Evangelist, Intel) and Nicolas Erdody (Director, Open Parallel Ltd). The invite also mentioned the upcoming Multicore World conference, happening here in Wellington in March 2012:
The World is Going Parallel and New Zealand Software Company has a Leading Role in it
Since the advent of computers, and later of the internet, the processing of massive amounts of data has been growing. Industry has been increasing computing power for decades, but the trend towards increasing speed of processing has reached the physical barrier. Vendors cannot put more processing power into a chip, without overheating it. To solve the problem, vendors changed the architecture, building more processors into a single chip, calling them multicore chips. These new chips entered the mainstream market a few years ago, with all vendors currently selling them.
New multicore chips are also more power efficient, and the potential is basically unlimited for the number of cores that you can put on them. The potential processing power is absolutely unheard of, which will not only allow users to do thing faster, but also add more, and new, conditions to the current problems. Now it is possible to imagine applications that have not been possible before.
However, this new and exciting scenario comes with a challenge. Since the inception of computers, software has been written with a single central processing unit (CPU) in a chip. To exploit the potential of multicore chips, software needs to be written thinking in parallel. Parallel programming is not a new concept, but it is more difficult to write. It is estimated than less than 10% of all the software programmers worldwide are able to deal with parallel programming. In the next 10-15 years, there will be huge opportunities to either deal with all the legacy code written from decades of sequential programming, or to create new software that will take full advantage of thousands of cores in a chip, plus all the range of services, solutions and systems integration in between.
This is an ideal ground for the fertile mind of the technologists, software communities and researchers within NZ. It's mainstream but it's a niche new technology. It's already taken advantage of the skills available in NZ, and parallel computing will be essential to process the vast quantities of data produced by the SKA telescope, a global project that NZ is key part of it. James Reinders (Director, Chief Software Evangelist, Intel) and Nicolas Erdody (Director, Open Parallel Ltd) will be discussing the opportunities and challenges that Multicore presents in a press conference this Wednesday 21 September 2011.
Open Parallel, a NZ based company specialised in Software for Multicore and Parallel Computing has been working with Intel since early 2010. To increase awareness about multicore and to present the ecosystem that NZ already has in place to unveil the potential of multicore chips, Open Parallel organises Multicore World 2012 - a global conference about Multicore Technology (software and hardware) as part of its vision to establish New Zealand as a centre of excellence for multicore and parallel computing. Multicore World will be held 27 - 28 March 2012 at the Wellington Town Hall. The main goal of the conference is to provide IT decision makers being C-level executives as well as software community leaders with the knowledge and the connections they need to make valid business and technology decisions in terms of their multicore software and hardware requirements over the coming years.
James Reinders and Nicolas Erdody will be presenting about Multicore, Parallelism, the SKA project and Multicore World in a press conference in Wellington
I just found out while here on a HP launch event (unrelated because the event I am attending is about imaging and printing, not laptops), that a new HP dm1 laptop version has been released, just eight months after the original model was introduced. The HP dm1 is an ultraportable laptop, not quite as small as a "netbook" (I hate this word), but not as large and heavy as a laptop. The HP dm1 was the first laptop with an AMD Fusion chipset (including AMD CPU and GPU all in one).
I bought one while in the US recently attending the HP Discover conference, to replace my previous HP dv6. It's a brilliant PC. A lot faster than netbooks thanks to its dual core 64 bit AMD CPU, 11" screen, very nice keyboard and light (just a bit over 1Kg). I've replaced the original 500GB HDD with my Crucial 256GB SSD and I get about seven hours battery life with WiFi off, and about five and half with WiFi on. Its Windows Experience Index is 3.8 because of the CPU. My specific model gets 5.1 in gaming graphics (using the standard ATI drivers) and 7.9 in drive (because of the ultra fast SSD). Actually the SSD itself cost more than the laptop.
I recommend this "ultraportable" laptop. It's available in New Zealand now, and I am sure the new model will be out soon.
Full disclosure: I was invited by HP, with a group o bloggers, to attend the HP Discover conference in Las Vegas earlier this year, and I bought the HP dm1 with a gift voucher I won during the conference.
I am in Shanghai today and tomorrow, courtesy of HP, for an HP IPG (Imaging and Printing) launch event. I feel like I have just absorbed more information about printers (laser, ink, networked, managed, etc) than I had in the last five years.
The Kerry Hotel is a beautiful hotel, and the food is excellent. Landed in Shanghai from Hong Kong at 11pm. Flew (no pun intended) through immigration and customs in less than five minutes. Very nice people all around.
Shame HP used an Australian travel agency that put us, New Zealanders, on a QANTAS flight with lots of stops (WLG - SYD - HKG - PDV), when there's a direct Air New Zealand flight Auckland - Shanghai. It could have been twelve hours travel instead of twenty four. My fault too, should have checked the itinerary earlier.
Will post the news on Geekzone later.
During the Great New Zealand Snowstorm 2011 the MetService web site was probably one of the most visited in the country. Unfortunately someone thought it would also be a great time to break into Metservice's online advertising platform and plant a little Trojan horse.
What happened is that when serving the ads the MetService web site was also unknowingly distributing a third party piece of code. This little piece of code would be executed by the users' web browser and silently download and install malware on the visitors' computers.
To make it clear: you wouldn't need to click an ad to load this malware, as its code was being loaded directly from the ad server and executed by your browser. The infection wasn't delivered by an ad. In the delivery method could be applied to any other database driven website. It's not an "online advertising problem".
Here is the official MetService email I received when they started the clean up process on their server:
Over the past week, MetService's website has experienced record numbers of visitors due to the severe weather being experienced across the country. The site has handled this record traffic well. The popularity of the site no doubt made it a target for this attack.
An upgrade incorporating a fix is now being installed in order to resolve the issue. The ad server database is also in the process of being cleaned and rebuilt. We have responded to tweets on the issue starting just before 10am this morning, and will continue to respond to users' concerns as they arise.
While there's still an ongoing discussion on Geekzone (where it seems it was first reported), at least one of the installed malware is Personal Shield Pro, a fake security program that will collect personal information, all while pretending to be a legitimate program - and at some point might even ask for credit card details to unlock the "cleaning" feature, obviously not doing anything.
It's also not clear the third party software was distributing one, two or more variants of malware - it's possible that the software could be installing different types of malware depending on what browser was being used, or what operating system version the PC is running, etc.
From the information we managed to collect on Geekzone, the main infection was really Personal Shield Pro. This can be removed with Malwarebytes, a free software (although with a Pro paid version with more features).
To remove the Personal Shield Pro follow these steps:
- Reboot your PC and press F8 just before Windows starts running
- On the boot options screen select "Safe Mode with Network"
- Download Malwarebytes and install
- Run a full scan and accept its suggestions
This should clear the infection.
Obviously your PC could get contaminated again with the same thing if it stumbles upon another web sites carrying the same or similar code. Here are some tips to keep it safe:
- Make sure your Windows PC is always up-to-date with the latest patches and browser versions. If you are running Windows XP make sure you have Service Pack 3 installed and all Windows Updates after that. If you are running Windows 7 make sure you have Service Pack 1 and all Windows Updates after that. You should check for new Windows Updates every second Wednesday (New Zealand time), which is the day Microsoft releases those updates. You should actually set Windows Update to automatically download and install updates.
- If you are running Internet Explorer on Windows XP you should have Internet Explorer 8. If you are running Internet Explorer on Windows 7 you should have Internet Explorer 9.
- If you are running other browser (Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari) you should check that you are running their latest updates.
- If you are running any other program (specially ones that plug into your browser) make sure you always have all updates installed. This includes Java runtime, Skype plugins, Toolbars and any other program that changes the browser behaviour.
- You should install one antivirus program (free or paid) but not more than one. Multiple antivirus programs on the same PC will cause problems.
- Earlier this year I posted a blog entry with links to a list of free security programs and you should read it.
If anyone is in the security community and could add or update any information posted here about this specific incident, please contact me. I'm also blocking comments in this blog post to avoid the predictable "Windows vs Mac OS vs Linux vs " or "Internet Explorer vs Firefox vs Chrome" flame wars.
UPDATE: for those interested in finding out how the Metservice ad server was compromised, this is a good read.
UPDATE: Although the JAVA runtime is multi platform, the final payload affected only Windows PCs. All of you running Mac OS X, Linux, iPads and other devices will not be affected.
In a previous blog post I lashed at service companies that have problems with their help desk experience, and probably gave the impression the contribution some of their people give in online media is not welcome.
That's not the case. They all do a great work out there, fronting up for the company, enduring some rude comments from people with no social skills (those who keep shouting "mine, mine, mine") and so on.
The post was about the broken processes, not about the people.
Here at Geekzone we can find some examples of great contributors, and I will list them in no particular order (ok, will try and put company names in alphabetical order, and if I forget any, please remind me):
Social media Online channels cure everything!
Twitter is a 140 char medium, and it seems people can't just get a tweet for what it is trying to convey (a personal opinion). Some people take it as a personal offence if something bad regarding an industry or activity is said - even when not directed at them. And some people expect a dissertation in 140 chars. So here is my "extended version".
It started when I posted this tweet: "Most annoying sentence used on Twitter is 'Sorry, how can we help?'... What about start with better, faster customer service to everyone?"
This is what I think. Extending that sentence, service providers' help desk experience is so broken that people gets to Twitter (and other venues like Facebook, Geekzone, etc) to complain, and only then get some action from the online team that rush with a "Sorry you are having problems, how can we help?".
My tweet came from years of reading about help desk interactions on Twitter and Geekzone. Mostly of what I've read are horror stories. Usually there's a long wait (45 minutes is not unheard of, sometimes hours), a promise of a call back (that never happen), fault details that are never logged and when customer calls back the help desk says "this is the first I hear about it", the "Contact Us" pages that are supposed to get people in contact with the Help Desk via email, but no replies even come back and so on.
So, my thought on "how can we help" is still "improve your customer service experience and make it work". This is not for telcos only, but all industries.
After my tweet, I got a reply from Paul Brislen, TUANZ CEO: "because usually that's the first time you hear the customer has an issue. Blissful ignorance before that point."
It may be. Sure, there are some cases in which customers don't even take the time to call the help desk. But that's not always the case.
Why would some customers go to online channels first instead of calling the help desk? Because they suspect no results will come out of that contact, and a friend of a friend told her "to post on Twitter, it's like a priority queue".
To the customers: this is the wrong approach folks, because it's not helping the provider to "build a case". If you call the help desk and get a call logged, then with time there's a wealth of knowledge that can help everyone else.
To the providers: if customers call the help desk, but nothing is logged, then the help desk is not helping themselves (except for creating the illusion of "quick resolution" and "high number of cases closed")*.
Customer service using online channels (I dislike "social media") have a seemingly priority tag assigned. Sorry, but it looks like they are there to put out fires so their reputation is not too damaged.
Of course online channels can be used, for example as crowdsourced data sensor network, allowing providers to collect data indicating something is wrong. For example Telco A sees a wave of people complaining about broken services, for example slow iTunes downloads or intermittent problems accessing smh.com.au? This is probably faster and more accurate than their own data sensors in pointing out a bottleneck to the local distribution network, or a problem with their proxy servers.
Strangely I don't see this happening much, yet. If it is then it's not publicised.
There are many problems with "support" on Twitter and other channels. Authentication is one - how do you know this is the customer who can actually take actions on this account? Or how do you even know this is the actual customer, not some impersonator? Then it's the technical problem, because it's really hard to get some meaningful troubleshooting information on 140 characters. But most importantly it is probably extremely hard to scale support on Twitter.
So, please fix your help desk. Provide excellent customer service, then I'd really believe you are using
social media online channels for things other than putting out fires.
* Some time ago there were reports of mobile data connection problems with Vodafone and subsequent discussion. I might be wrong (Vodafone welcome to post in the comments), but from what I found in talking to people, customers would call to log a fault, help desk would ask the customer to turn off the handset, remove the battery, wait five minutes and turn the phone on again. It would always "fix the problem" so no no fault logged. In my opinion the mobile operator missed the important information that a lot of people, with different handsets were having connection problems. It wasn't just one model. It wasn't just in one specific location. It was spread across the country. Until someone wrote about it with detailed information and then there was a scramble to get things fixed. This is just an example of not using the knowledge collected from help desk contacts for its advantage.